Q&A with NBC Sports’ Arlo White, Lee Dixon and Rebecca Lowe

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Today a conference call was held with three key figures in NBC Sports’ coverage of the Barclays Premier League, lead announcer Arlo White, commentator Lee Dixon and presenter Rebecca Lowe. The panel were asked a variety of questions from reporters across the nation. Here is a paraphrased sampling of the questions and their responses.

With the title race likely coming down to three clubs, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, how would you intrigue the casual fan to watch the Premier League? 

Arlo White: While a limited amount of clubs may challenge at the top there are so many more subplots at play that may interest the causal fan. Finishing in a Champions League spot, a Europa League spot, and avoiding “the dreaded trap door” of relegation all make for exciting storylines. For the American fan I like to ask –  can you imagine what kind of drama would ensue if the New York Yankees had a bad season and were relegated to Triple A?

The competition for soccer broadcast rights has resulted in more soccer on television than ever before. Do you see this as the tipping point for soccer in the U.S.?

Arlo White:  I don’t think it’s ever been this popular in the United States. I spent time here in the ’80s and then again in 1991. I can remember sitting in the home of my relatives outside of Chicago and flipping through what seemed like hundreds of television channels in search of some football. Somewhere in the 300s or something I managed to find a channel showing Manchester United and there I saw a 17 year old Ryan Giggs thrashing a volley into the net against West Ham.

Things have come a long way since then but are we at a tipping point? We’ll have to wait and see. I just know there is a huge following and even if you’re the 6th, 7th or 8th most popular sport, in a country of 350 millions you’re still quite viable.

Who are your predictions to win the league and the scoring title? Also, who do you think will be the signing of the season?

Lee Dixon: It’s simply too tough to call at this point. I think there are 3-4 big transfers that have yet to go down and only when those do will we really have a feel for who can take the title.

Arlo White: It is difficult but I think City will win the league and Wilfried Bony will be the signing of the season. A lot of players have a difficult time adapting to the Premier League but Bony possesses the physical attributes to succeed and comes into England having scored 31 goals in 24 Eredivisie appearances last season.

Rebecca Lowe: So tough to call but I think Chelsea will win the league with City, Spurs and United in that order. I think Roberto Soldado will be the top scorer while West Ham’s Ravel Morrison will be the find of the season. He comes from a great pedigree at Manchester United and is finally coming into his own as a player.

What are the challenges you face trying to connect to American audiences? 

Lee Dixon: The general preparations will be the same. There are challenges for different audiences but the biggest thing is to give respect to the audience. The game is the most important thing and we won’t be dumbing it down. My strength is analytical but I try to convey my analysis as simply as possible. I think the key to is to say what’s in your head and that will translate to all audiences. No matter what country you’re from, the game takes care of itself.

Rebecca Lowe: A lot of the preparation is very similar. For me, there will be the slight difference between how I speak of the game in England and how the people in the U.S. want to hear it. So I need to be very aware of that. The other challenge is to concentrate on 10 games. I came from ESPN UK where we concentrated on just a single match. Most important for me is that I adapt to a new country, system, network and that I engage with the viewer.

What are your thoughts on the Wayne Rooney situation? Will he leave United? 

Lee Dixon: I don’t think he should leave but I think he will. He’s been quiet of late. I don’t see Rooney going abroad so that means he’ll need to be sold to a competitor, which could take the title away from United. If they sell to Chelsea it will be a huge double blow, not only losing him but losing him to a title competitor as well.

Arlo White: We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a game of cat and mouse, once one player goes then there’s money injected into the transfer market and they all go. At the end of the day, however, players generally get their wish.

Rebecca Lowe: It’s probably not even his decision to make but I don’t see how Moyes can let Rooney go. It’s hard enough for Moyes in his first year at Old Trafford, I just don’t know how United can put their manager in that position. If they do sell Rooney and end up finishing second Moyes will be left angry but it won’t be his problem.

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.